The most common reaction people have when they see me wearing my Koss PortaPros is: “Don’t you work in tech? Can’t you afford some Skullcandies or something, instead of those hand-me-down headphones from the 70s?”
I always want to smack these people for their shameful ignorance and misguided elitism, but don’t… mostly because this is exactly the same reaction I had when, two years ago, I saw a pair of Koss PortaPros perched upon Cult of Mac review editor Charlie Sorrel’s lank, salt-and-peppery head.
Since then, I’ve converted a dozen friends to Koss PortaPros the same way Charlie converted me: by taking them off his head and making me put them on and listen to them for a few seconds. Everyone I’ve converted has sworn by Koss, just like Charlie and I do.
Koss’s PortaPro series isn’t old or antiquated: they’re design and quality are timeless. There’s a difference. But that doesn’t mean a timeless design can’t be improved or added upon, and with the PortaPro KTC line, Koss has done it.
How? How else. A built-in mic and in-line controls for your iPhone. Those sneaky devils.
What We Like
I’m a huge fan of Koss’s PortaPros, so much so that they are my reference pair of headphones for reviews. They’re just a steal all around, and they sound just as great now as they did back in 1984.
Aurally, PortaPros just sound fantastic, with deep bass, clear highs and fantastic midrange clarity. They just have a great mix. These aren’t headphones for snobbish audiophiles, and they’re not cans for the Beats-loving club hopper who wants his bass so low it’s practically a brown sound. No, they are headphones for the person who loves music enough that they want it to sound really bright and crisp and undistorted.
PortaPros are also notoriously comfortable. Usually, over-the-ear headphones lead to listener fatigue, but I’ve never been uncomfortable with my Porta-Pros on. They rest lightly and softly on the ears, and are just a joy to wear. I’d go as far as to say I’ve found them more comfortable than any other pair of headphones I’ve ever owned.
Finally, PortaPros are resilient. Their design makes it more likely that an earpiece will snap off than a wire snap in two if you get it caught on something… and if that happens, it’s an easy enough process to just snap it back on, with your Porta-Pros none the worse for wear. And if, for whatever reason, your Porta-Pros do fail you after normal wear and tear? They come with a lifetime guarantee: just send them back and get a replacement within 90 days.
The new in-line mic and remote make a great set of on-the-town headphones even better. The mic quality is clear, and the in-line remote not only works as advertised, but blends in with the PortaPro’s circa-1980 aesthetic. If you’ve got an iOS device, these are the headphones you need.
What We Don’t Like
Much as I love the PortaPro line, it’s not without its (admittedly small) faults. Most of that has to do with their collapsibility.
The PortaPros are advertised as collapsible headphones, but it would probably be more accurate to say they are compactible. Instead of having folding hinges, Porta-Pros can have their individual earpieces looped together and the metal headband tightened until they squeeze together into a tight ball.
Functionally, I’ve never felt this solution worked very well. Porta-Pros are very susceptible in this mode to having the earpieces unloop and the whole shebang pop open. To prevent this from happening, you can put the Porta-Pros in the enclosed carrying case — a leather, drawstring pouch — but again, this solution leaves a lot to be desired. It can be hard to fit the Porta-Pros into the carrying case and equally hard to remove them.
Then there’s the price. Granted, we’re spoiled, but the non-mic-and-remote version of Koss’s PortaPro headphones can be had on Amazon for just $35. That’s an amazing price for headphones that sound this good and come with a lifetime warranty. Comparatively, the Koss PortaPro KTC’s cost twice as much at $80. That’s a lot to pay just to not have to reach into your pocket to change your music or answer your phone.
Finally, a word about personal style. We love the look of Koss’ss PortaPro line, but you do need to be aware that these headphones have not had their look changed since the mid-1980s. They’re not a statement everyone’s going to want to make, in other words.
One of the best things about wearing and loving PortaPros, though, is that moment when you run into a stranger on the street wearing a pair at the same time as you and then silently share one beautiful serene little moment, in which you acknowledge and smile upon each other, recognizing the other person’s great taste, and therefore your own.
With the PortaPro KTCs, Koss is bringing that experience to a whole new generation of listeners and making their timeless brand ready for the smartphone age. It’s about time.
Product: Koss PortaPro KTC Headphones
Pro: Timeless design, amazingly durable, fantastic sound for the price, and come with a lifetime guarantee. Also probably the most comfortable headphones you can buy.
Con: Twice as expensive as the non-KTC PortaPros. Carrying case and collapsibility leave something to be desired.
Verdict: These are Cult of Mac’s favorite headphones. You should buy them. Preferably now.